The final weekend of November produced a major shake-up in the world of 600cc Sprint racing, as one of the most coveted rides in the 600cc ranks will have a new fanny filling its seat in 2015.
Car owner Gary Hunter and his driver of the past four years, Mike Rutherford, have parted ways after a very successful relationship. When the new season begins in the spring of 2015, Manheim’s Heath Hehnly, the four-time champion of the 600cc division at Lanco’s Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway, will buckle into Hunter’s No. 7h.
“I want to stress that there are no hard feelings between Mike and me,” said Hunter. “We didn’t have any disagreements or anything like that. It was my decision to make the switch, but it wasn’t because of anything that Mike did or said. Any car owner would be proud to have Mike Rutherford as his driver; I certainly was, and I wish him the best. If there are any good rides available, he’ll find ‘em.”
Hunter continued, “it was a tough decision (to switch drivers), but I felt like the time was right and I had to do it. I approached Heath some years ago – before I hired Mike as my driver – because I believed he would be a good fit for me and my operation. But, and I admire this about him, Heath was already driving for Sonny Cooke and he was loyal to Sonny. He said he’d love to drive my car, but he was committed to Sonny.”
“But now Sonny has retired as a car owner,” added Hunter, “so I knew that Heath is available. I wanted to make the decision early, like now, to give us time to get things together and so Mike had time to look for a ride. So I called Heath last weekend (November 29 & 30) and he agreed to drive for me. Then I called Mike and told him what I had decided to do. The bottom line is that Heath was available and I’ve always wanted to see what we could accomplish together. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this, either, so it’s now or never.”
The Hunter/Rutherford combination joined forces in 2010, split for about six months part of the way through that season, then teamed up again and remained together until the last weekend of November. The pair achieved a great deal of success, winning the Kevin Gobrecht Memorial at Trail-Way Speedway (two years in a row), the Chris Ahner Memorial at Greenwood Valley Action Track, and a big wingless PA 600 Speedweek race at Kutztown’s Action Track USA (in 2013). They also captured the 2012 point title at Lanco’s Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway, and garnered six wins in each of the past two campaigns.
Hehnly, the four-time and defending 600cc track champion at the Clyde, will feel right at home when he slides into the seat of the Gary’s CARSTAR No. 7h…because it will be the same car he’s run for Cooke over the past three seasons.
“I’m buying Sonny’s car; going to pick it up the first weekend in December,” said Hunter. “Sonny wanted to sell since he’s retiring, and I’m not going to have a whole lot of time (this winter) to put together a new car. Heath is certainly familiar with that car, so it’s a natural fit. I sold my car to someone in New York – part of ending the deal with Mike, I guess – and now I’ll have a proven winner in Sonny’s car. It’s a 2012 Hyper X4, and I’m anxious to go racing with it.”
The new combination plans to return to Saturday night competition at Lanco’s Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway, where Hehnly will try for a third consecutive – and fifth overall – point championship in the 600cc Class. They will also take part in the Wingless Wednesday battles at the JeffreyHogueRealtor.com Action Track USA on the Kutztown Fairgrounds. While Hehnly does not have a wealth of wingless experience, he’s anxious for the challenge and knows he can lean on his car owner for advice because the Hunter/Rutherford combo had quite a bit of non-wing success at Action Track USA, winning twice in 2014 along with that big Speedweek victory in ’13.
Hunter and Hehnly also expect to enter all of the lucrative special shows in the region during the 2015 racing season.
By Barry Angstadt – https://www.facebook.com/barry.angstadt?fref=ts&ref=br_tf